Blog, Creating Healthy, Safe and Supportive Learning Environments, Inclusive Classrooms

Supporting English Language Learners

After reading a timely post by Cult of Pedagogy‘s Jennifer Gonzalez entitled “12 Ways to Support English Learners in the Mainstream Classroom,” I wanted to learn more about how the Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB) welcomes and supports English Language Learners to their schools.  The OCSB’s website is excellent, and they have links to various videos that would be helpful for a new family to Ottawa whose first language is not English. While I was trying to put myself in the shoes of a newcomer to Ottawa, I thought that it might be helpful for newcomer families to have a visual source of information as well.

Below is a mockup of how I might present key information about the OCSB’s Family Welcome Centre, based on the information provided on their website. I envision it as an infographic for parents that explains the process of placing a new ELL student in a school in the OCSB. It also explains the programs for English Language Learning in Ontario Schools. It could be distributed in digital form for easy translation, printed as two posters in the Welcome Centre, or printed front/back to hand out to parents. As a bonus, creating this infographic helped me to understand the process in more depth as well!


Blog, Creating Healthy, Safe and Supportive Learning Environments, Inclusive Classrooms

Indigenous Education in Ontario

As a student, I was never made aware of the history of residential schools in Canada until university. University! It was so shocking to me that I went through twelve grades in the public education system in Ontario without ever learning this part of Canada’s history. After first learning about it, I become more motivated than ever to educate myself about these issues and become a stronger advocate in supporting Indigenous Education.

There are so many different paths that students may have taken to end up as a learner student in our classrooms. It is thus crucial to acknowledge their lived experiences and history, especially for our First Nations, Inuit and Métis students. These students could have lived or may still live part-time in communities that have a distinct linguistic and cultural tradition, and it is of utmost importance for the teacher to model respect for their culture.

One initiative that I was able to be a part of was “Project of Heart,” which is a program that can be carried out in the classroom that helps students on their “journey of seeking truth about the history of Aboriginal people in Canada.” Created by a teacher in Ottawa (Sylvia Smith), this collaborative program includes a series of activities that help students to more fully understand the extent of loss and suffering associated with the residential school experience. Sylvia Smith is one example of a teacher who has become a strong advocate for Indigenous Education, and she has inspired many students and teachers alike to deepen their understanding of these issues.

At the link below, you can find Indian Residential Schools and Reconciliation Teacher Resource Guides for Gr.5, Gr.10, and Gr.11/12, developed by the First Nations Education Steering Committee and First Nations Schools Association. While they are B.C.-specific, they can be adapted for Ontario and provide a wide range of resources for students of different ages.

As highlighted by the Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair, the Canadian education system must now play an important role in achieving Truth and Reconciliation and repairing relationships with Indigenous people. This begins with teachers who are aware of, and advocates for, stronger support of Indigenous Education. You can learn more about Ontario’s Indigenous Education Strategy at the link below.


Blog, Grade 6 LTO, Teacher as Professional

Differentiation in the Classroom Using Hapara Workspace

Hapara workspace is a technology tool that works wonders in terms of providing opportunities for differentiation in the classroom. Hapara workspaces are online collaborative learning environments where students can work at their own pace through a wide variety of learning tasks. Students are able to review learning goals, access resources, complete individual learning tasks, collaborate with peers, check their learning, submit evidence of learning, and receive feedback. Below, I have highlighted some of the awesome functions of Hapara workspaces that address the principles of differentiated instruction.

A Hapara Workspace for a grade 6 planet inquiry project.

1.Differences in how students learn have a significant impact on achievement

One of the great features of the Hapara workspace is the column for “Learning Goals,” where the teacher can clearly communicate learning goals and curriculum expectations related to the workspace. After using Hapara workspaces for a couple different science inquiry projects so far this year, I’ve found that it really allows the teacher to present a variety of resources (in different formats), which the students can then navigate and explore to find the information that is most useful and relevant to their learning. As the workspace is so student-directed, it also frees up the teacher to spend more one-on-one and small group time conferencing with those students who need more guidance. This ensures that each student receives the support necessary to achieve success!

2. Learning begins from a student’s point of readiness.

In Hapara workspaces, you can create groups of learners. This is an amazing function, as you can create groups of students based on level of readiness/needs. Each student will have access to materials that are released to his or her group, as well as materials released individually and to the whole class. The workspace allows the teacher to add documents, video tutorials, and other resource links depending on the student’s level of readiness. For example, if one group of students want to present their learning using Prezi but have never used it before, the teacher can easily add links to their Hapara workspaces that will give an overview of Prezi (e.g. video tutorials, screencast, etc.).

3. A safe, non-threatening and respectful learning environment is vital to student achievement.

As each student is working on their own individual workspace, they are able to access differentiated material and work at their own pace through the learning tasks. I have found that this reduces stress for students who worry about being last to finish their work, or who have anxiety about the level that they are working at for course content. Students are also able to immediately access their workspace and don’t need instruction from the teacher to get started on their work. Hapara workspaces set students up for access by allowing them to go above and beyond: the teacher can easily incorporate extension activities and extra challenges for early finishers.

4. High expectations of success by all are matched by tasks that provide a high degree of challenge for the individual.

The Hapara workspace system allows the teacher to assign different tasks to different students (or to different groups of students). This enables the teacher to challenge each individual student based on his or her level of readiness. For example, if students are working on a Hapara workspace about the Sun, the teacher could link different versions of the same article based on the reading level of the student (Newsela is a great resource for this).

5. Essential concepts can be effectively presented in a variety of forms.

Hapara workspace allows many different types of resources to be curated in one spot. For example, I am able to upload files to Hapara workspace from my computer or Google Drive. I can provide links to websites or resources for students to use. When uploading a Google Doc, Google Slides, Google Form, Google Drawing, etc., there are options to upload as “view only” OR to upload as a “copy per student” (so that when each student clicks on the file, it opens their own copy). The file is saved in the student’s Google Drive. You can also add files as “copy per group,” which allows students to work together collaboratively on a task. The best part is that Hapara organizes all my students’ work in my Google Drive, so I don’t have to collect anything- it’s all right there, ready for me to assess!

For a video overview of these concepts, I highly recommend checking out this video. The narrator does a great job of highlighting some of Hapara’s many features that simplify differentiation in the classroom!